BEITOSTØLEN, Norway — For the reigning Sprint World Cup champion who never lost a classic sprint last season (and placed first or second in all but one World Cup skate sprint), Sunday’s 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint was about starting where she left off.
Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla did just that, qualifying first then cruising through the heats to win the women’s freestyle sprint on Sunday in Beitostølen. Part of a three-race series, it was held on the final day of Norway’s International Ski Federation (FIS) season-opening weekend — one weekend before the World Cup starts in Finland.
Falla, 26, took control of the day early, winning the prologue in 2:47.79 minutes. Afterward, she told NRK that she was satisfied with the result and that it was fun to race the sprint prologue. She carried her momentum through her quarterfinal and semifinal, advancing in the top two in each round, before beating Slovenia’s Vesna Fabjan in the final with a time of 2:42.3. Fabjan finished 0.2 seconds later in second, and Norway’s Mari Eide outlasted Heidi Weng for the final spot on the podium in third (+1.6). Weng, one of Norway’s top women who placed second in both distance races on Friday and Saturday, placed fourth (+2.4), while Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic finished fifth (+3.2) and Norway’s Silje Øyre Slind was sixth (+5.2) in the final.
In an interview with FasterSkier on Saturday, Weng pointed that she didn’t qualify for the heats at last year’s sprint opener in Beitostølen. On Sunday, she qualified soundly in seventh, 4.2 seconds behind Falla.
Falla skated every heat with good control and technique, and kept her challengers from posing any real threats. Out of the start, the six finalists darted off the line at a high pace, and Falla immediately took control. Fabjan tried to challenge her in the final stretch, but Falla proved to be stronger. Her winning time in the final was the fastest of the day.
The prologue began at 8:30 a.m. and temperatures around -4 Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit). The highest-ranked athletes started first and the final standings already began to develop as the prologue came to an end. Falla, Eide and Fabjan clinched the first three qualifying places, just as they did in the final.
“I’m satisfied with the result and I’m happy to be in a sprint race again,” Falla told NRK after the race.
Of the 30 qualifiers, Norway’s 22-year-old Renate Bergset Tjetland was right on the edge in 30th (+18.26). Annika Taylor, who is originally from California but competes for Great Britain (while training with Norway’s Lillehammer Skiklub/Team Coop Talent), qualified in 27th, (+17.14). She started in the second heat and placed fifth, 12.1 seconds behind Weng, who won that quarterfinal.
“I’m happy about qualifying for the quarterfinal,” Taylor told FasterSkier afterward. “I feel like I got off to a good start and I tried to find the right lines, but I wasn’t able to follow in the final climb.”
The five quarterfinals starting at five minute intervals were won by Falla, Weng, Slovenia’s Katja Visnar, Eide and Fabjan, respectively. Slovenia’s Alenka Čebašek crossed the finish in second after Visnar, but was disqualified for an illegal lane change that impeded Norway’s Lotta Udnes Weng. Čebašek was relegated to last in the heat and 30th overall, while Lotta Weng advanced to the semifinals in second (where she went on to place fifth for 10th overall). Falla started out faster than everyone in her quarterfinal, but slowed down considerably in the final stretch, opening the door for teammate Astrid Uhrenhold Jacobsen to win the heat in 2:45.4, while Falla finished with the same time in second.
Falla seemed just as relaxed in her semifinal, which she won by 0.9 seconds over Heidi Weng.
“I thought it was a lot of fun and I’m really happy because I’ve never been in the final in Beito before,” Weng told journalists immediately after advancing to the final in second. “But I’m going to have to start better and work on keeping my speed up all the way when we get to the World Cup.”
Eide won the second semifinal by 0.2 seconds over Fabjan, while Lampic and Slind qualified for the final as lucky losers from the second semifinal in third (+0.6) and fourth (+1.0), respectively.
Canada’s Madison Fraser and Isabella Howden, both of Team Hardwood, placed 43rd (+29.12) and 45th (+43.07), respectively, in the qualifier.
Aleks is a freelance journalist based in Gjøvik, Norway, covering ski-related sports and track & field. He also works part time as a model and reads a new book almost every week.